A Diasporan perspective


Dear Editor
Firstly I would like to express my pleasure at learning that some members of MDC-UK are actively participating in the current constitutional outreach programme towards a people- driven constitution in Zimbabwe.
The importance of participating in national affairs at a civic and political level cannot be over-emphasised.
Many people do not appreciate the importance of politics until it starts affecting their lives negatively.
There are many topics in the constitution that will certainly generate a lot of interest and lively political discussions.
For example dual citizenship, devolution, presidential powers, powers of parliament, bill of rights to name but a few.
My focus is on the death penalty. I think this is a topic that evokes a lot of emotion and its debates are often mired in religious and ideological overtones.
In the Western world the neo-liberal view is that punishment is crucial in the prevention of crime and no punishment is greater than the death penalty.
On the other hand the left- wing view tends to put more emphasis on the structural issues of society as the basis for preventing crime. For example, issues of poverty, inequality and social justice are seen as critical to law
and order.
Religion is quite pivotal in discussions on crime prevention and punishment.
The Christian religion is founded on the teachings of Christ. Christ said in his teachings that if you love me keep my commandments. One of the commandments is: “ Thou shalt not kill”.
One of the issues that intrigues me about the United States is that the death penalty is legal in some of its states and yet Christian values are quite common in America.
The other issue that intrigues me about America is that Christian fundamentalism tends to be synonymous with right-wing views and yet to me this seems to be inconsistent
with the teachings of Christ.
Christ was anti-establishment and pro-poor and encouraged tolerance and forgiveness.
There are some religious beliefs which either condone revenge and death as a form of punishment or promote it against perceived sinners.
Christianity is deeply rooted in Zimbabwe. In addition, our forefathers believed in a system of justice which was based on compensation and which is
akin to the modern-day concept of restorative justice (kuripa). Before colonialism there were no prisons and there was no death penalty.
Proponents of the death penalty argue that it is a deterrent against crime.
However this is not as straight forward as it seems and clearly there is no evidence to back this argument.
For example, in the United States there is no evidence to suggest that states that have retained the death penalty have benefitted from it.
In fact, studies overtime have consistently shown that murder rates are higher in death penalty states than in non-death penalty states.
In the United Kingdom there has not been a negative impact from the abolishment of the death penalty in 1999 and since the last executions in 1964.
In a dysfunctional society such as we have in Zimbabwe today – thanks to a decade of political and economic instability and state-sponsored lawlessness — it is quite easy to overreact to lawlessness and advocate for harsh methods of dealing with crime but this ignores the underlying causes of crime and will not have any impact.
In the United Kingdom there is growing cynicism towards a criminal justice system that is perceived to be soft on crime but I think this is more to do with
the failure of successive governments to strike a proper balance between the rights of accused
persons and the rights of victims.
For example, in the United Kingdom a life sentence does not mean a life sentence in reality.
There are cases where convicted murderers have been sentenced to life, then released some twenty years later and have gone on to commit more murders .
The public has understably reacted with outrage and this undermines public confidence in
the criminal justice system.
Given a right balance, a professional police organisation whose members are appropriately remunerated, an independent and professional judiciary we do not need the death penalty. Surely what we need is a criminal justice system based on logic rather than emotion.
A nation that is at peace with itself does not need to react harshly to offenders but can deliver protection to the public using civilised methods of crime prevention.
The constitutional process is expected to deliver a new society based on respect for human rights, a growing economy based on human dignity, hope for our young people and national pride.

Jonathan Chawora
Birmingham UK